Food manufacturers and suppliers ramp up on specialty foods

Consumers have a desire for specialty foods and unique food experiences and Milwaukee-area food and beverage manufacturers are working on products to meet that demand.

That was the consensus of eight manufacturers and experts who attended the Milwaukee Business Journal’s Food and Beverage Roundtable held at The Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee in early October.

“The specialty food market is on the rise and it really resonates with consumers. And we’re hearing all of the food manufacturers here playing into that,” said Shelley Jurewicz, vice president of economic development for the Milwaukee 7 and executive director for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce’s regional food and beverage industry cluster network, FaB.

“It makes sense, if you want to grow your business and charge higher prices, you need to be pursuing that specialty item,” she said.

Food and beverage is one of several sectors targeted for growth by the Milwaukee 7, a regional economic development group.

In pursuing growth for his Milwaukee company, Giacomo Fallucca, chief executive officer of Palermo Villa Inc., said Palermo Villa came up with creative ways to capture more of the frozen pizza market, which was essentially flat over the years.

In 2014, the company introduced the “Screamin’ Sicilian” pizza line with the sole purpose of taking market share.

The higher-end craft-produced frozen pizza is selling well, much like craft beers in the beverage industry, he said. The company is expecting high single-digit growth and maybe even into the double digits in 2015, Fallucca said.

Organic and gluten-free foods have also been an area of growth for many food makers, including Rebecca Scarberry, owner of Becky’s Blissful Bakery, Pewaukee.

Scarberry said she is now focusing on earning U.S. Food and Drug Administration organic certification for her company, which makes gourmet caramels.

“One of the things that is important in the confectionery world, as I was trying to take my product national, was trying to get around the certifications and just use the organic ingredients and I found out that I just can’t do that,” Scarberry said. “So we’re going through the certification process, but that is something we absolutely have to have to scale and to be competitive in the specialty market.”

Eric Olesen, owner of Racine-based O&H Danish Bakery, is focused on providing customers with a good experience.

“We have consumers that get passionate about the experience and that plays into so many other things,” Olesen said.

But specialty items also come in the form of getting different characteristics out of food products and sourcing new suppliers.

Sam Maglio Jr., who owns produce supplier Maglio & Co., Glendale, said he wants to innovate more to help manufacturers, grocery stores and restaurants offer better food.

So the company is also working on research and development and working with producers on extending the shelf life of food products. For example, the company is looking at packaging cut watermelon differently to extend the shelf life to 13 days instead of three to four days.

“The research and development effort has become a part of our future growth,” Maglio said.

Denise Lockwood, Milwaukee Business Journal

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